All Posts in “Writing & Publishing”

Gathering the Kindling

David Holper

Guest Poetry Editor David Holper shares his experience reading and writing poetry and offers some insight into what he wants for our Fall 2011 issue.

As the guest poetry editor for the upcoming issue of Relief, I want to introduce writers and readers to my tastes and influences as a poet and as a reader of poetry.  Let me start where I typically start with people who ask me who my favorite poet is.  When W.H. Auden was asked this same question in an interview in 1971, he wisely responded, “it suggest[s] that poetry were a horse race where you could put people 1, 2, 3, 4. You can’t. If anyone is any good, he is unique and not replaceable by anybody else.”  That’s a good starting place because in reading a lot (and writing a lot), you move beyond gimmicks and you learn to write yourself out of the ruts that often occur in creative work.

As for me, I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area (in a family of devout atheists, a dis-ease from which I eventually recovered as an adult) and was heavily influenced by the Beats (Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginzberg, Gary Snyder), but I was lucky enough to have good writing teachers in high school, college, and graduate school, so all along I was exposed early on to an eclectic variety of styles, voices, and forms.

I began to write my own poetry in high school, but I would say that as important as practicing writing, I regularly attended open mics and poetry readings, put together my own poetry shows (with my other weird poet friends), and often read my work aloud.  That sense of the sound of a poem has been critical to my understanding and writing of poetry.  In college, I also wound up editing the campus literary magazine Toyon, which helped me recognize that quality poetry doesn’t come in just one form, particularly the one with my name on it.  Those habits of reading widely and reading aloud have definitely influenced my craft and my appreciation of other poets.

As an editor, I want a poem to offer me something that I wouldn’t otherwise notice.  I recall hearing a wonderful poem on the radio one day (a poem I’ve never been able to locate afterwards) in which a man describes flying on a plane with his wife who falls asleep next to him.  In staring at her, as well as the sunny space between them, he realizes that in the many years that they have been married, it’s as if a third presence has formed that binds them.  It’s altogether a lovely poem, but lovelier still because it reveals to us something we may have all intuited about couples who have been together for a lifetime and still find themselves in love—that together they seem to form something greater than themselves, and anyone who has basked in such a presence surely feels its blessing.

Then, too, a good poem often has a core: sometimes that core comes in the form of an idea.  Think of so many Wallace Stevens poems or William Carlos Williams’s red wheelbarrow.  Yes, it’s a vivid image that he offers us, but it’s the line that “so much relies upon” that wheelbarrow that tells us what he’s driving at on a deeper level, i.e., the need to notice, to observe image carefully—and yet more carefully still.  But that core may also reside in the form of revelatory emotion, or as Billy Collins said in 2001, “Poetry is the history of the human heart, and it continues to record the history of human emotion, whether it’s celebration or grief or whatever it may be.”

Perhaps last of all, poetry for me has become a way to celebrate my faith.  In some way, it should make me sit up and pay attention to life and its sacred dance.  So many people around us go through life on auto pilot, and for me and for many others, poetry is a way to re-awaken us to the holiness that resides within us and all around us.  Whether it’s through picking up the thread of a Biblical narrative, observing life around us, delving into the natural world, or just contemplating Christ’s work in our own lives, a poem should gather the kindling and the wood to reignite that sacred connection that our culture so casually dampens through its superficial, banal concerns.  And when one finds a poem that sets that blaze alight, that poem becomes a treasure not easily set aside.

David Holper has worked as a taxi driver, fisherman, dishwasher, bus driver, soldier, house painter, bike mechanic, bike courier, and teacher. His poems appear in various literary journals and his book of poems, 64 Questions, is available from March Street Press. He teaches at College of the Redwoods and lives in Eureka, CA, far enough from the madness of civilization to get some writing done. He is Relief‘s guest poetry editor for Issue 5.2.

The New Bible-for Secular Humanist

Bonnie Ponce

The Secular Bible – Click here to read the whole story.

This makes me sad that someone has written a “bible” for all the non-religious people, though A. C. Grayling claims that there is something there for everyone.

“The question arose early in British academic A.C. Grayling’s career: What if those ancient compilers who’d made Bibles, the collected religious texts that were translated, edited, arranged and published en masse, had focused instead on assembling the non-religious teachings of civilization’s greatest thinkers?

What if the book that billions have turned to for ethical guidance wasn’t tied to commandments from God or any one particular tradition but instead included the writings of Aristotle, the reflections of Confucius, the poetry of Baudelaire? What would that book look like, and what would it mean?

Decades after he started asking such questions, what Grayling calls “a lifetime’s work” has hit bookshelves. “The Good Book: A Humanist Bible,” subtitled “A Secular Bible” in the United Kingdom, was published this month. Grayling crafted it by using more than a thousand texts representing several hundred authors, collections and traditions.”

This bible is a collection of the greatest human philosophies from the east and west and there are probably some interesting or even inspiring ideas but the problem is that they are from men. I believe that the Holy Bible is completely inspired by God that his ideas were put onto parchments and scrolls by men but they were God’s words. I feel that this bible written by Grayling will lead people that have never read the Holy Bible into thinking they are of equal importance.

What do you think?  What impact will it have on our culture?

Bonnie Ponce is the Director of Support Raising for Relief and lives in Huntsville, Texas with her husband and betta fish.  She has a BA in English from Sam Houston State University.  After work she enjoys relaxing with a good book or working on her novel.

CA Redemption Value

Michael Dean Clark

Some thoughts on trash:

A homeless man in his fifties pulls aluminum cans from the trash barrel in front of the Ralphs Supermarket where I shop. He’s clearly no amateur. What catches my attention this morning is not the act itself. He’s not the only person I’ve seen scavenging to get by today. This is Ocean Beach after all.

What arrests my general distraction is the way he cleans as he pulls the cans out of the refuse, taking time to pick the cigarette butts out of the ash tray on the top of the stone-speckled trash barrel, dropping them one by one into the bag as if to earn the recycling fees others didn’t bother taking the time to redeem.


When I was a reporter in Los Angeles, I worked for a newspaper that covered the Puente Hills Landfill in a strip of unincorporated county land that was once most likely a dairy farm. Now, it’s America’s largest trash heap at 150 meters tall and covering more than 700 acres. I once covered a meeting where officials discussed the rate at which the massive trash mountain was summiting the space allotted to it. At one point in the meeting, a plan to ship the region’s trash by rail into the Nevada desert was discussed, though not seriously. Apparently, the same objection came up every time the concept was mentioned. It’s less expensive (and thus, more profitable) to continue with the current business model until it is no longer viable.

No word on how viable the people of Nevada find the alternative.


I love family stories, especially the ones from before I was born. Apparently, there was a DIY trend in the early 70s where particularly resourceful interior design types would piece together area rugs from a number of smaller pieces of (hopefully) corresponding color, though I did mention this was the 70s, right? In my mind’s eye, it’s like a shag quilt. All one needed were the remainders of other pieces of plush pile or low nap and the desire to turn said scraps into one Franken-rug.

My parents apparently harbored said desire, which is why, on more than one occasion, you could find my older brother in the dumpster behind a carpet store. I’m told the results were lovely, though no pictures exist as confirmation.


I may be over-simplifying, but as I relive these scenes I can’t help but see the writing in them all.

Michael Dean Clark is the fiction editor at Relief, as well as an author of fiction and nonfiction and an Assistant Professor of Writing at Point Loma Nazarene University. He lives in San Diego with his wife and three children.

Vintage Rejection

Stephanie Smith

Rejection always hurts, but this publisher seems particularly hard to please! This vintage rejection slip is from the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company (1907-1925), who is famous for their production of Charlie Chaplin movies (Photo originally posted on NPR). I’m not sure if my writing, or much modern writing at all for that matter, would pass muster! Which reason for rejection do you find most surprising, amusing, appalling? One of my favorites…see #6 for a good laugh.

But to keep you from getting too discouraged, here are a few excerpts from rejection letters of now beloved and classic works,  from publishers who probably still have their foot stuck in their mouths…

Lord of the Flies by William Golding…“an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”

The Deer Park by Norman Mailer…“This will set publishing back 25 years.”

The Diary of Anne Frank“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”

On Writings by Anais Nin…“There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic.”

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame…“an irresponsible holiday story.”

Stephanie S. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Communications and Women’s Ministry, which she now puts to work freelancing as a book publicist and writer through her business, (In)dialogue Communications, at After living in Chicago for four years, traveling to Amsterdam for a spell, and then moving back home to Baltimore to plan a wedding, she now lives with her husband in Upstate New York where they make novice attempts at home renovation in their 1930s bungalow. She writes for and manages Moody Publishers’ blog,

Book Review: Brian Spears’ “A Witness in Exile”

Brian Spears

By Alan Ackmann

Brian Spears, whose debut book of poetry A Witness in Exile was published earlier this year by Louisiana Literature press, is no stranger to long-time readers of Relief, having won the editor’s choice prize for poetry back in issue 2.2 for his poem “Hall Raising”. Although the poem published in that issue didn’t make the final cut of the book itself, many of its themes are revisited in A Witness in Exile, and handled in a way that Relief readers will probably find sincere and compelling.

Keep reading for the full review!